Developing a Marketing Plan

This section of the toolkit is a step-by-step guide to help you develop a marketing plan for your system. It includes:

  • Reasons to develop a plan
  • Elements of the plan
  • Transit Marketing Plan Worksheets

Reasons to develop a marketing plan

Developing and implementing a transit marketing program is an intensive effort that needs the support of everyone in the system. The marketing plan defines the program — how you are going to market your system. It serves as a roadmap that identifies where you are now, where you want to be, and how you plan to get there. In addition, preparing a plan promotes confidence in your marketing decisions and encourages buy-in from system administration and stakeholders.

As you go along on this journey, the plan also will function as a point of reference — a way to check on your progress and make corrections to your route.

Elements of the marketing plan

The transit marketing plan includes five major topics:

  • Situation
  • Resources
  • Goals and Objectives
  • Target Markets
  • Strategies


The situation is a description of where you are now. It begins with baseline research to evaluate your system and services and set the stage for your plan. It details the pros and cons of the service and how it is perceived among riders and in the community. It describes current ridership and potential markets. It looks at the level of support in the community and at potential community partners.

For worksheets that will assist you in assessing your situation, click here to go to the Situation Assessment Worksheet.


Resources are the people and funding mechanisms that can help you accomplish your marketing objectives. These include staff, any community partners and volunteers, and a realistic assessment of your budget.

The rule of thumb is that a transit system should spend about 1 percent of its operating budget on marketing expenses, such as passenger guides, promotional materials, and advertising. Some marketing expenses, such as vehicle graphics and bus stop signage, actually are capital costs.

For more information on evaluating your resources, click here to go to the Resources Worksheet.

Goals and Objectives

Goals and objectives are the why of the plan – what do you want to accomplish through marketing? Most transit marketing goals and objectives address the factors identified under Why Market Your System:

  • Awareness — letting people know transit exists in your community
  • Education — educating the population about your services and their benefits
  • Image/Perception — creating a positive and inclusive image of your transit system
  • Ridership — encouraging trial ridership among new customers and continued use among existing riders
  • Support — building support in the broad community and among community leaders

Goals and objectives are related concepts, and both are necessary. Goals are long-term and are not easily measured. Objectives are short-term, measurable accomplishments that can lead to realizing a goal. For example, “increasing ridership” is a goal, while increasing ridership on a certain route from x number of riders to y number of riders per day, is an objective. Accomplishing the objective will help to meet the goal.

For help in identifying your goals and objectives, click here to go to the Goals and Objectives Worksheet.

Target Markets

Target markets are the groups of people you need to communicate with in order to accomplish your objectives. Depending on your specific objectives, your target markets may include current riders, potential riders and non-riders.

The more targeted the strategy, the appeal, and the information conveyed, the better the chance of generating trial ridership. A newspaper ad that says, “Ride the Bus!” has less chance of attracting new riders than a brochure distributed to college students that shows which routes serve the campus, at what hours, and for what price. In a case like this, targeting students with information you know is relevant to them is much more effective than trying to reach everyone who reads the newspaper with a very general message.

For example, if your goal is to build ridership, your target market will be groups of riders and potential riders — the population segments you want to use transit more. These segments will be identified based on the needs that your system can meet. For instance, a fixed-route system that runs on a 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. schedule will not accommodate most work commuters; a system that runs from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. is much more likely to serve employees in getting to work and back.

If your goal is to build community support for funding, your targets will be a different set of groups, such as decision makers and gatekeepers.

To build overall awareness and a positive image, your target will be a broad market, namely the entire community your system serves.

Once you have identified your target markets, you can customize messages that appeal to and are appropriate for specific groups.

To identify your target groups, click here to go to the Target Market Worksheet.


Strategies are the methods you select to accomplish your objectives and reach your goals. Numerous strategies are described in detail in the next section, Strategies for Marketing Public Transit. These will help you determine cost-effective ways to reach your target markets.